They call it “The Kingdom.” It sits behind the building where you’d go and get your food. You’d never even know it was there, but it’s larger and vaster than the main building. It is where they store their dry goods, like flour and corn meal. They also have a huge, two-story freezer in the Kingdom, which they turn on during the holidays. I was here to turn it on.
I think it’s ironic, perhaps, that you’re in the front, buying your chicken that’s been disemboweled, split-through with a spear, and slow roasted, or you’re buying your chicken that’s been torn apart, tendon from bone, and batter-dipped for frying. I think it’s ironic that the front is dedicated to our supreme position on the food chain, but the Kingdom, in back, is run by the birds.
Starling and chickadee and sparrow and crow and sea gull, at any time, you’ll see more of them than there are people in the Kingdom. And when I walked into the vastness of it, I could hear the smaller ones, the stowaways from Great Britain, chirping and flittering around in the rafters in the near darkness. They quieted down when I reached the shelves that held cans and bags and sacks. One such sack was in the wrong place, sitting upon a square pack of large cans. The sack, once protected by plastic, was eviscerated, spilling its guts of bleached flour onto the cans beneath it, and the floor below. There were little peace-signs imprinted in the fine powder at random intervals. These were bird tracks. The birds found a way to get into the flour.
Oh, I thought, the processed, bleached flour must be like cocaine to these little birds. They probably get no real nutrition from this, just energy.
And so, thinking it wasn’t the best thing to have the flour exposed, I covered up the ripped part of the sack with a large piece of torn plastic and held it down with a large can. Then I walked away. In the empty vastness of the Kingdom, I could hear the echo of beating wings. Far enough away to not spook the birds, I turned around to see seven small brown and black birds looking at the plastic cover and the can holding it down. A few of the birds flew at the can, to frighten it I suppose. They were all twittering and chattering, and the frustration in the noises they made was evident and growing, until I heard, “TWEEET!”
It was loud and echoed through the Kingdom. It was a high, shrill noise that could not have come from a bird any larger than my hand, but it demanded attention be paid. The other birds and I froze for a moment, and they flew back into the rafters.
“TWEEEET!” knocked around the walls and vaulted ceiling again. I couldn’t make out the source of the sound. It shook all around me. There was more flapping in the rafters, and little tricks of shadow and light made it look like there were several dozen birds up there. Then there was silence. Slowly, deliberately, I walked towards the exit, towards daylight and open air, until I was frozen by,
The sound surrounded me in the cavernous building. It was an angry chirp, a desperate whistle. Just steps away from the doorway, it stopped me. Pausing for just a moment, I turned around again, and quickened my pace back towards the shelves. I threw down the can and ripped away the plastic. Flour dust danced all around me. I swiveled and made for the exit again, pausing only briefly, once out the door, to peek back into the darkness of the Kingdom, where the birds ruled. Two or three little birds pecked and scratched in the white flour, flittering in excitement, content, for now.